Why You Should Switch To Gigabit Ethernet

When it comes to networking, faster is better. Here's why you'll be making the switch to Gigabit Ethernet, if not today, then tomorrow.

August 19, 2005

4 Min Read
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There was a time when Fast Ethernet really was fast. One hundred megabits per second of pulsing network power seemed like all anyone could ever need back when 10 Mbps was the standard. Fast Ethernet was as fast as you could ever want to go.

Until now. What was speedy then seems downright pokey in a world of Gigabit Ethernet and -- gasp! -- 10 Gigabit Ethernet. If there's one thing almost everyone who either uses or manages a network can agree on, it's this: speed matters. And when you can boost your data speed ten times, then that's a technology that you really have to look at.

In fact, a lot of organizations are looking closely at Gigabit Ethernet, and realizing that all that extra speed is something that they can use, if necessarily right now, then in the near future. "It's becoming very pervasive," says John Yen, senior manager of Cisco's switching products marketing group. "We've seen a transition on our modular platforms where Gigabit Ethernet outsells Fast Ethernet."

While a big part of the interest in Gigabit Ethernet is being driven simply by converged network applications' insatiable appetite for bandwidth, speed itself is not the only justification for speed. A big part of it is that speed can make good business sense. No one ever got fired for making a network faster.

"We're looking at customers who want longer term investment protection," Yen says. "If you're looking to upgrade your switches anyway, you might as well do Gigabit Ethernet now rather than later on."Yen is quick to point out that the cost of Gigabit isn't so much higher than Fast Ethernet that enterprises won't get what they pay for. Moreover, 100 Mbps networks have the tide of history against them. Just as a 10 Mbps switch has become something of a museum piece, so too will Fast Ethernet soon become something that network oldtimers reminisce about.

Besides, just as Fast Ethernet adoption was driven, in part, by the ubiquity of 10/100 Mbps network cards, the arrival of 10/100/1000 network cards on the desktop and laptop is a compelling argument for ratcheting up the network speed. "Three quarters of all business PCs ship with Gigabit Ethernet standard on the desktop," Yen says. "When a manager sees that his PCs are all 1000 Mbps, he'll wonder why he isn't using them to their full capacity."

The performance boost on the desktop side is only part of the story. Yen says servers -- which are themselves probably equipped with 10/100/1000 cards too -- will perform better in processing operations if the network as a whole is sped up. "Improvements in end-to-end connectivity will improve server performance," he says. "One slow link can reduce server performance. The time it takes a server to complete a TCP transaction can be held up by a slow connection. It requires more resources to maintain that transaction longer."

A single process held up by a pokey network link isn't a big deal, but when you multiply that across all an enterprise's desktops and servers, you can have a serious case of hurry up and wait. And wait. And wait. According to Yen, boosting network speed to 1000 Mbps can result in double or even triple server performance.

Even if the enterprise rank-and-file don't notice that their servers are running more efficiently, they will notice. Files are getting bigger and backups more critical, Yen says, and with that has come a productivity bottleneck as workers wait for bits to be flung across ever-more taxed 100 Mbps networks.

"One of the most mundane things is network backups," he says. "If you can imagine an organization with 1000-plus users each backing up a gigabit of data on a regular basis, you can see how a faster network can be a great advantage."Indeed, it's those large enterprises, with thousands of users, voice over IP (VoIP) systems and IP video-based e-learning and training applications that who are most interested in Gigabit Ethernet, but they're not the only ones. "In general, enterprises are making the transition and leading the demand," Yen says. "But we're also seeing take-up rates in the lower end for the technology and investment protection benefits."

Soon enough, Gigabit Ethernet will doubtless become as ubiquitous a standard as Fast Ethernet is now. But how fast is fast? Obviously it isn't fast enough. One thing is certain, the way things are going, it won't be long before the big question is "should I upgrade to 10 Gigabit?"

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